Larry Gross (1954-2015)

Longtime CityBeat staffer and columnist Larry Gross passed away on Monday, June 15 at the age of 61.

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click to enlarge Larry Gross, the pride of Vevay, Indiana
Larry Gross, the pride of Vevay, Indiana

Longtime CityBeat staffer and columnist Larry Gross passed away on Monday, June 15 at the age of 61.

Best known in these pages as the author of the long-running “Living Out Loud” column, Larry started at CityBeat during the 1990s as an accountant. He happily played the part of the curmudgeon over the years — both in print and in person — as he worked his way out from behind the company’s spreadsheets and into the newspaper.

Larry often reflected on the pride he had for becoming a writer, as his passion for the craft fueled him to produce two novels and three collections of short stories. His column was a staple of this publication for more than a decade, his raw, honest, slice-of-life stories drawing thoughtful responses and enticing spirited debate.

Those who remember Larry Gross knew him to be a great friend, an innovative and thoughtful author and a longtime supporter of independent media. CityBeat has offered space for friends and colleagues to offer the following remembrances. — Danny Cross

• I am pretty sure I’m the last person who ever saw Larry Gross run. I am almost certain I’m the only person who ever saw him running from the police.

In June 2001, a small group of boisterous but harmless young radicals went to Mount Adams and declared a “people’s curfew.” They were protesting the fact that, while a curfew had been enforced upon the rest of the city after the uprising against police violence (aka “the riots”), bars in Mount Adams did a brisk business, curfew be damned.

I was covering the protest for CityBeat. Larry had never been to a protest. He came out of curiosity.

“Mount Adams is closed,” the protesters announced. “Please go home.”

Shortly thereafter, the police charged.

We all ran. Behind Larry and me, a cop caught up with a protester, slammed him against a station wagon and arrested him. That enabled Larry and me to get away.

Larry found the experience illuminating and invigorating. One of the things I loved about Larry was his readiness to try new things, to go to new places, to risk living. — Greg Flannery

• Years ago when we worked together at CityBeat, Larry used to suggest cigarette breaks with the same snarling inquiry: “You still smoke, don’t you?” He’d ask it that way even if he’d just seen me smoking. It was his trademark grumpiness, and it couldn’t have been more of a façade; he was always betrayed by a merry glimmer in his eye, as he’d grouse about things like the weather and local politics. He had that rare way of making it feel just fine to bitch a little and get things off your chest. I pronounced myself “too busy” to meet for coffee a few years back, and now of course I wish I’d made time. Larry was a good dude, and it was nice taking those breaks with him. — Hannah Purnell

• Larry Gross was genuinely a one-of-a-kind character, and I’m stunned that he’s gone. I remember when he started on staff at the paper. I instantly liked him. He liked to play up his “curmudgeon” role, but I always felt his “grouchiness” was just his sense of humor, and it aligned perfectly with mine. When he was no longer in the office and just freelancing, he’d still pop in from time to time, usually looking for his check, but always stopping and making a couple of jokes with me, always with a smile and always brightening my day (if Larry saw me writing this, he would laugh and sarcastically say, “Oh yeah, that’s me, I’m a regular Mr. Sunshine”).

While insightful and smart, Larry’s writing didn’t have a lot of extraneous flourish — it was first and foremost heartfelt and honest, and I think that’s why so many people connected with his work. (For a very long stretch of time, his columns would always receive the most comments and feedback, often by a long shot. Our “Letters to the Editor” section was often dominated by responses to his work.) Though we were friendly colleagues, I wasn’t exactly “close” to Larry, but I still feel like I knew him through his writing and, like his readers, will always feel like he was a good friend. — Mike Breen

• Larry and I shared a similar sense of humor: witty one-liners that knocked people off-balance, got their goats. Their reactions resulted in seeing them at their truest, like a photographer that preferred to take candid rather than posed photographs. But, if needed, he’d follow it up with a smile to let you know there was no need for offense. Going out for meals was always a treat because you knew he was going to prod the waitstaff with some comment. For instance, he’d ask if he could smoke when he obviously wasn’t allowed, or he’d ask for a ridiculous item that couldn’t possibly be on the menu.

I’d like to take the opportunity to toss a crass parting comment to Larry. It’s a bit of an inside joke: “Well, Larry. At least I won’t have to help you move anymore.” I’m following it with a smile. Trust me; he’s laughing. — Jim Allen

• Larry and I volunteered for AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati (AVOC). We were “buddies” with persons living with AIDS, helping them with groceries or whatever they needed. When Larry came on board in 1994, I was on the buddy coordinating team, matching volunteers with clients. In many instances, Larry’s relationships impacted his life in positive ways, and I believe he wrote about some of those experiences. It soon became apparent to us, though, that Larry was the one who would readily adopt clients who were difficult or impossible to match. Sometimes he supported two or three people at a time. In one case, we matched Larry with a client who couldn’t hold his own cigarettes. Larry helped him chain-smoke a pack. When there were no more left, he cursed Larry and told him to get out. He did. But Larry kept going back. — Jan Allen

• Larry Gross was CityBeat’s accountant for years, a no-nonsense numbers guy who always provided honest, direct advice. As one of the people running the company then, I trusted Larry and he trusted me. So one day out of the blue, he said he’d always wanted to write for CityBeat and asked if I’d give him a shot.

We had a rotating first-person column space back then, and he wanted to write about small, everyday moments in life under the title “Living Out Loud.” As CityBeat’s editor I’d been in the habit of giving young, unproven writers a chance at finding their voices in print, but I hesitated when it came to our older, grumpy accountant. What could Larry have to say that would interest our readers, I wondered. What if it didn’t work out — it would get kind of awkward at the office.

“Living Out Loud” proved a success, of course. Larry eventually took over the rotating space, recruited other writers and had everyone write under the LOL name. He started editing the others’ columns before turning them in to me, and he became as good an editor as writer. I still smile when I remember him bringing a new writer to my attention and saying, “Let’s give her a shot.”

Larry’s columns never seemed to be about anything — he was either riding a bus, drinking in his favorite bar or walking down Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. But he always managed to squeeze a conversation or observation out of the most mundane interactions and offer a small life lesson in 800 words, often imparting wisdom that only hit you later. Sneaky good.

Larry found a new career late in his life, following a passion that didn’t fit neatly into even the loose structure of an altweekly newspaper. I’m so happy we gave him that shot, and so happy to have been on the ride as he lived his life out loud. — John Fox

• I worked with Larry Gross for more than a decade. When I started at CityBeat, Larry was the paper’s accountant, better known as “Scary Larry” for his no-nonsense demeanor and dry sense of humor. But underneath that gruff exterior was a sweet, big-hearted guy who willed his way into becoming a writer — a writer of rare honesty and no-frills clarity. We didn’t always see eye to eye — I edited “Living Out Loud” for a period — but no one was more dedicated to his craft: He never missed a deadline and, in what became something of a fetish, he almost always turned in his column exactly at the assigned word count. He was also a champion of alternative newspapers, DIY publishing and a stiff drink — three more things that made him my kind of guy. — Jason Gargano

• What impresses most about Larry Gross was that, for much of his adult life, he was an accountant. Not particularly unhappy or happy, he nonetheless knew what he truly longed to do: write. And he found a way to do it, to repeatedly connect with his deceptively simple signature style, but not without some amount of personal sacrifice and lean living; his reward, of course, was a certain degree of happiness.

I will greatly miss my evenings with Larry, talking and toasting a fair number of vodkas of dubious origin; but more than anything, I will miss him as a writer. He had just found his stride in earnest and that is the saving grace, the tragedy and the lesson all wrapped in one.

Lastly, I am compelled to say that Larry would like me to add that the title story from his collection Signed, Sealed and Delivered is one of the most memorable from this century, and that Vevay, Indiana is a helluva novella. Please consider buying them online, and when finished, place them on your bookshelf next to his literary hero, the great Richard Ford.

Which is to say, right where he belongs. — Mark Flanigan

• The first time I read Larry Gross’ column in CityBeat, it pissed me off.

There are all different kinds of writers in the world. Some work their asses off to figure out how stories are built. Some labor in futile MFA classes for years, believing that if they can just study a little bit harder, they’ll be the next Tolstoy, or at minimum, Nicholas Sparks. 

But others adhere to what I call “The Squirrel Paradigm.” These are the rare birds who just write. While the rest of us are running around chasing stories and racking our brains for meaningful things to document in carefully arranged towers of words, these people can just sit at their desks, look out the window, and spot, say, a squirrel. After pondering said squirrel for a moment, they then write about it. And an hour later, they wind up with a brilliant piece about the damn squirrel.

This is the sort of stuff that pisses writers off at first.

But then you back off and admire it. Because some people are just naturals. And Larry Gross was one of them.

He was charming and witty to the end. And he kept doing what he loved, year after year. As he wrote to me in an email a while back, “My plate is pretty full. But I’m lucky. I’m writing.” 

He never stopped. — Zachary Petit

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